There were 19 guys from the lower tier of the maximum security unit at tonight’s Bible study. Around half were new guys.
Most Bible study leaders would be thrilled at an increased turnout. For me a larger turnout is bittersweet. I am grateful for the guys that come and want a change in their life. I learn so much from their perspective. I am saddened that there is a continuous stream of people coming in as fast or faster than guys are leaving.
Each week I pray about what passage to cover. The lessons need to be self-contained because new people would not have context if I refer to a study from a previous week. Some guys are only in for a short period of time before they are either released or sent upstate. But I also have some guys that have been there for a long time so I can’t do the same lesson over and over. I’ve been facilitating the Bible study in this unit for 11 months now, and some of the guys have been there the entire time.
This week is was a collection of scriptures, so I was unsure how it was going to turn out.
For an opener I asked what it meant or what it felt like when somebody had your back. I heard phrases such as: feeling safe, secure, confident, powerful. I then asked what it felt like when someone didn’t have your back. What did it feel like when you thought someone would be there for them but they weren’t? Betrayal, anger, disappointment, disillusionment.
It is a very common experience for these guys to expect that people will come to visit them in jail, but their friends and family don’t show up. One guy said, “We only are allowed two one-hour visits a week, but people won’t even spare one or two hours a week to visit them.” They feel abandoned, alone, forgotten.
I asked if any had ever been on the other side. Had they promised to come visit, but never did? Yes. Many were guilty of that as well. There was a sense of shame.
Our first scripture was:
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
31 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
33 Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
34 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”
And so said all the disciples.
Peter promised Jesus he would be there for him. These guys also had people who said they would be there for them.
Like Peter, some of these guys had made promises to others that they would be there for them, and like Peter, they hadn’t come through.
Not all of the guys who attend the study have reading skills. They don’t pick up a Bible and will just listen to the story. One of the guys looked confused and was trying to get an explanation from the person next to him. I asked if I could help. He said he was confused about the crow and the rooster and didn’t understand what they had to do with the story. Some of the other guys who had grown up on a farm explained to him what it meant for a rooster to crow.
Back to our story.
I explained that Jesus was then arrested and taken away. Later Jesus was having an arraignment. This is where the story picks up.
Peter Denies Jesus, and Weeps Bitterly
69 Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”
70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”
71 And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”
73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”
74 Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
In verse 70 we observed that if any of have ever lied then we have something in common with Peter. In verse 72 we observed that if any of us have lied under oath we have something in common with Peter. In verse 74 we observed that if any of us have cursed or used swear words then we have something in common with Peter.
If any of us have been arrested then we have something in common with Jesus. If any of us have been taken to jail and court then we have something in common with Jesus. If any of us have had friends let us down, then we have something in common with Jesus.
I talked about how Jesus was crucified but then was resurrected, which takes up to our final scripture passage:
Jesus Restores Peter
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah,[a]do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah,[b] do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah,[c] do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. 18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Jesus said, “do you love Me more than these.” I asked what the word “these” referred to. Perhaps it was the other disciples. So it could have meant do you love Me more than these people do. Or it could have meant, do you love Me more that you love these people. Or it could have meant Peter’s occupation, since Peter had gone back to fishing. Was it important for Peter to have a job that he knew how to do?
I asked what “these” would refer to in their own lives. What was in competition for their love and devotion to Jesus? The things they thought of were: friends, family, lifestyle, power, and addictions.
Some observed that Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Jesus compared to the three times Peter had denied Him; grace abundant for any sin.
I asked the guys if they could forgive the people who had abandoned them. There was some discussion about how hard that would be if you saw that person again who had betrayed you. We talked about how you can practice forgiveness – that you can rehearse that forgiveness in your mind and heart every day even while you are in jail – the practice of forgiveness.